School bus driver cleared dispatch before getting ticket for drunk driving
The company that provides bus service for School District 51 is reviewing its policies and procedures after at least two of its employees apparently failed to notice and report something that didn’t escape the attention of a middle school student: a driver who appeared intoxicated while driving a bus full of children.
Several questions remained unanswered Wednesday, a day after 54-year-old Gary Williams of Clifton was detained and ticketed by the Colorado State Patrol minutes after dropping off about 30 students at Orchard Mesa Middle School. Cincinnati-based First Student Inc. suspended Williams pending the outcome of its investigation.
The State Patrol said a student on the bus sent a text message to a parent Tuesday morning indicating Williams smelled of alcohol and was behaving oddly and driving erratically. The parent called 911.
Emergency dispatchers then issued a report that asks officers to try to immediately locate a driver suspected of drunken driving. A trooper caught up with Williams about three blocks away from the school. The trooper observed signs of intoxication, performed a chemical test and issued Williams a ticket on suspicion of driving while ability impaired, child abuse and failing to drive in a designated lane, according to the State Patrol.
Williams told The Daily Sentinel he had shared two pitchers of beer with another person Monday afternoon and drank “five or six” more beers at home later that evening but didn’t think he was intoxicated.
First Student spokesman Timothy Stokes wrote in an email Wednesday the company follows a process in which each bus driver is met by a dispatcher who ensures the driver can safely operate his or her vehicle. Once that determination is made, the driver is handed the keys.
In the instance of Williams, a four-year driver for First Student, he “did not show any behavior towards the dispatcher that would have made them believe that this driver was unsuitable to operate their vehicle,” Stokes wrote. The State Patrol said Williams started his route at 5:45 a.m. Stokes said he didn’t know when Williams picked up the first student.
Williams told The Sentinel he also was in contact with the director of safety during an emergency-evacuation drill at Orchard Mesa Middle School and said she didn’t report anything about him possibly being intoxicated. District 51 spokeswoman Christy McGee said the director of safety is a First Student employee.
Asked whether the director of safety had contact with Williams and reported anything about their encounter, Stokes wrote that he wasn’t sure who was in contact with Williams besides the dispatcher, and finding out that information will be part of the company’s investigation.
Asked whether the incident will lead First Student to change its procedures for determining driver capability, Stokes replied that all processes will be reviewed, but it’s too early to say if there will be any changes.